Poor final hour undoes New Zealand's hard work
At the press conference, Ross Taylor's face was that of a man who had dominated 11 rounds of a fight only to be floored by the sucker punch in the final round. For five hours, disciplined bowling and unbelievably good fielding had made the most feted batting line-up in the game look ordinary and induced a succession of poor shots. With India 355 for 8, New Zealand could scent parity and a realistic chance of upsetting India at a venue that has so far been a graveyard for home teams. Seventy-five minutes of Harbhajan Singh-inspired mayhem later, the pendulum has swung away from them, perhaps decisively.
"It was one of those days where you'll take the first five hours," said Taylor with what could best be described as a rueful shrug. "The last hour was just disappointing. You've got to give it to Harbhajan, who once again batted very well. He was well supported by Sreesanth. It would have been a very good day if we were only 20 or 30 behind and had a bit of a bat tonight. Hopefully we can come out, get the early wicket tomorrow and bat the rest of the day tomorrow."
New Zealand's day started perfectly with the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar, and Daniel Vettori who got him was once again the focal point of a display that belied New Zealand's No. 8 ranking. Again, he varied pace and flight beautifully and rarely gave the batsmen anything to hit. India made just 59 in the opening session, and the pace bowlers supplemented his long spells with tireless endeavour of their own.
"He's been doing that for a long time for New Zealand cricket," said Taylor about his captain. "Going in with only one spinner, he knew he had to bowl a lot. I thought Chris Martin, Tim Southee and Brent Arnel bowled very well. We just let it slip towards the end there."
As tidily as they bowled, the most eye-catching aspect of the New Zealand performance was their fielding prowess. Rahul Dravid spoke of the innumerable singles they prevented and the pressure that created, and their superior athleticism in the field came to the fore right through the day's play.
"We always pride ourselves on our fielding," Taylor said. "That's an area we can control. When you're batting, what you do is dictated by how the bowler bowls to you. Your bowling plans sometimes come off, sometimes they don't. Without the gloves on, Brendon [McCullum] leads the fielding, and I thought the way he, Williamson and Guptill fielded today was outstanding."
When MS Dhoni, the last of the frontline batsmen, departed with India still 14 in arrears, the New Zealand think-tank were due for a few pats on the back. But along came Harbhajan and the plan went to the shredder. "The way we bowled to Zaheer was good," said Taylor with another half-grimace. "With the short boundary straight, Harbhajan just hurt us. What would have been pretty good balls to most batsmen, he was hitting for six. He's taken two 50s and a hundred off us, and our plans will have to be revised.
"One of the plans was to bowl short, but the short ball seemed to go a long way today. He has obviously improved his batting. After three innings, no one would have believed that he'd have nearly as many runs as Sehwag."
But having pushed India to the precipice on the fourth day in Ahmedabad and having made them look little like world-leaders for most of Sunday, New Zealand certainly aren't poised to throw in the towel. "We'd like to keep the lead under 100," said Taylor. "If we can get the early wicket and bat the rest of the day, you never know. If we can be 150 ahead, it could be an interesting [final-day] chase on that wicket."